Steelworker president angry over [Sudbury Vale mining] deaths – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – January 31, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

The president of the union representing the miner killed Sunday at Coleman Mine was as angry Monday as he was sad that a member of United Steelworkers Local 6500 had been killed on the job.

While his union was expressing its heartfelt condolences to the miner’s family, Rick Bertrand was feeling mixed emotions, as were many of his members. “A big part of it is anger, (I’m) very angry,” Bertrand said Monday at the new Steelworkers’ Hall at 66 Brady St.

“Four fatalities in seven months is unacceptable … this has got to stop,” said Bertrand. Two Local 6500 members, Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were killed June 8 of last year at Stobie Mine.

Another Steelworker, a member of USW Local 6166 in Thompson, Man., died in October, 12 days after he fell down a mine shaft while operating a scoop tram. Greg Leason, 51, had 23 years with Inco and Vale.

Greater Sudbury Police identified the Coleman miner late Monday as Stephen Perry, 47.

By late Monday morning, Bertrand had been on the phone with members continually since Sunday as they expressed their anger about the mining fatality.

“It’s unacceptable,” Bertrand said again. “We’re not even finished one investigation and we’re into another.”

Last week, Vale released findings of its investigation into the deaths of the Stobie miners, which resulted in more than 30 recommendations to prevent similar tragedies.

USW Local 6500 is putting the finishing touches on its investigation report, but Bertrand couldn’t say when it would be released. He said last week the union’s findings would be presented to the public.
Bertrand said it was too soon to say if USW would work with Vale on the Coleman investigation. “We still need to get in a room with them and have these discussions.”

That was supposed to happen Monday afternoon.

“I think they (Vale) understand there’s a problem,” he said.

Production has been suspended at Vale’s five Sudbury mines, including Coleman, as an action plan is drafted to make mines safer.

While he understands it’s not possible to suspend surface operations such as those at the smelter, said Bertrand, Vale needs “to sit down with the people at the surface plants and have some good conversation with them.”

Vale vice-president Kelly Strong said the company was briefing all its employees about the Coleman tragedy, and has a critical incident stress management team ready to help staff, union and non-union, cope with the loss of a colleague.

“Maybe let everybody sit back and look before they go back into their job,” said Bertrand.

Vale “practically had a fatality” when one of its furnaces had problems in February 2011 at the Copper Cliff Smelter Complex, charged Bertrand. The No. 2 furnace was down for months being rebuilt.

Steelworkers have been expressing concern since the year-long strike again Vale from July 2009-10 about dwindling numbers of workers and increased workload at Vale operations.

More than 3,300 production and maintenance workers, members of Local 6500, went on strike. Today, the union has about 2,600 members at Sudbury operations.

Strong, Vale’s vice-president of mining and milling for its North Atlantic operations, said Monday in answer to a reporter’s question that he didn’t see any relation between the bitter labour dispute and recent tragedies.

“In the past, there has been some differences between the union and the company,” said Kelly, “but … my belief is that we’re trying to achieve the same goal, which is really around no harm and making sure that people are getting home every night safe.”